Home Estate Planning Prosecutions fail to keep up with the UK’s growing ‘fraud epidemic’

Prosecutions fail to keep up with the UK’s growing ‘fraud epidemic’

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The UK government has been urged to do more to crack down on fraud after new data showed the number of high-value criminal cases reaching the courts has stayed flat despite a sharp rise in fraud.

UK crown courts heard 226 fraud cases last year compared with 221 in 2022, according to new figures from KPMG’s Fraud Barometer, which tracks cases worth £100,000 and above. KPMG recorded 298 such cases in 2021, a 66 per cent increase from 2020. 

The total value of last year’s cases was £993m, down from £1.1bn in 2022.

According to the latest figures from the Home Office, fraud now accounts for more than 40 per cent of all crime in England and Wales. 

“The timely prosecution of economic crime remains a challenge, so in the context of rising fraud rates, it is disappointing to see little change in the number of high-value fraud cases being heard in UK crown courts,” Roy Waligora, partner and head of UK investigations at KPMG, said. 

KPMG’s data showed the government was the biggest victim in last year’s fraud cases, losing £593m, while the commercial business and investment sectors suffered hits of £165m and £122m respectively.

Latest data from banking trade body UK Finance showed that Brits lost a staggering £580m to scams in the first six months of last year, suggesting there are many more potential cases waiting to be investigated and prosecuted. 

But KPMG also flagged that fraud receives less than one per cent of police resources. And even if such cases are prosecuted, record-breaking court backlogs could mean huge delays before these cases get to trial. 

Susan Hawley, executive director of campaign group Spotlight on Corruption, told City A.M. that fraud prosecutions “are still nowhere near the levels needed to tackle Britain’s fraud epidemic”.

“Without serious investment in enforcement and the criminal justice system, the risk is that fraud prosecutions plateau leaving the public purse and ordinary people at the mercy of this remorseless crime,” she added. 

Reacting to the report, a spokesperson for the Criminal Bar Association told City A.M.: “Record delays in bringing fraud trials to court are second to serious sexual offence trials, which is the long-term issue that victimises defendants and the victims of fraud alike.”

President of The Law Society Nick Emmerson added: “Decades of cuts and underinvestment in our justice system has led us to this crisis where there aren’t enough judges, lawyers and court staff to deal with the huge volume of work.”

Ben Morgan, a former joint head of bribery and corruption at the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), told City A.M.: “This report confirms what so many people experience, which is that fraud is one of the most prevalent crime types to affect people in the UK, and yet its enforcement so often feels like it comes second to ‘real’ crime.”

With the ‘failure to prevent fraud’ offence coming into force this year, which makes companies criminally liable for the fraudulent actions of their employees, Morgan, now a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, said prosecutors “have a new tool to try to change that perception”.

City A.M. approached the Ministry of Justice, the SFO and Action Fraud for comment.

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